Diego Garcia wins in La Coruna (© Almudena Miguez (FGA))
Spain's European bronze medallist Diego Garcia and Colombia's world fifth-placer Sandra Lorena Arenas were successful at the Gran Premio Cantones de La Coruna – the Spanish leg of this year’s World Athletics Challenge - Race Walking series – on Saturday (5) over a flat and fast 1km circuit at sea level.
Garcia takes Podebrady revenge
The men’s event started quite slowly, the opening kilometre being covered in 4:17 with Spain’s Ivan Pajuelo in the lead. The pace increased slightly over the following laps thanks to Ecuador’s Mauricio Arteaga who led at 4:05/km pace.
By the 5km point the Ecuadorian led in 20:31, five seconds ahead of Mexico’s Jesus Vega and Germany’s Hagen Pohle. At that early stage, the main favourites in the guise of Sweden’s Perseus Karlstrom and Spain’s Alvaro Martin plus Garcia did not feature in the top 10.
By halfway, which was crossed in 40:46, 23 walkers still remained in the lead group led by Vega and Martin. Britain’s Tom Bosworth led the then fastest lap in the 11th circuit with a 4:02 split, then Germany’s Cristopher Linke took command and stepped up the pace to clock a brisk 3:56 in the 13th kilometre for an overall 42:45 time, as 14 walkers featured in the leading pack.
The clock read 1:00:44 with five laps remaining and the group was led by Ecuador’s Andres Chocho, despite him having perfomed and won at the South American Championships six days before in Guayaquil.
A frantic 3:50 16th kilometre by Karlstrom reduced the lead group to just three – the Podebrady podium with the Swedish ace, Martin and Garcia. After another relentless lap timed at 3:49, Garcia moved to the front with Martin and Karlstrom was right behind him. With some 1750m left, the 25-year-old Garcia changed his speed to leave Martin behind and the race became a two-horse battle between the Swedish athlete and Garcia.
Midway through the closing lap, the Spaniard found another gear, much to the delight of the home crowd. He managed to build a sizeable gap on the powerful Karlstrom, who had defeated him twice this year.
A more than joyful Garcia romped home in 1:19:37 after a 3:42 final lap, while Karlstrom had to settle for the runner-up spot – as was the case in 2017 – seven seconds adrift, with Martin completing a classy podium in 1:19:59.
"I’m over the moon as Cantones is the best race walking permit in the world," said Garcia. "My name will now be among the winners here, that’s a dream come true.
"Until the last part of the event, there were a lot of walkers in the heading group, it made me uneasy as all of them were dangerous rivals but it was a relief when only Karsltrom and Martin remained with me. At that point I was not sure if I would win but the support from the local crowd was key as I found the extra energy I needed to leave them behind.
"It’s true that the Asian walkers have not come this year to compete but anyway today’s win is an enormous morale booster ahead of the Tokyo Olympics."
Third time lucky for Arenas
The women’s race opened at a moderate pace, the first 2km being covered in 8:55 with 12 athletes in the leading group. Ecuador’s Glenda Morejon and Karla Jaramillo, plus Brazil’s Erica Sena, took charge of the race in those early stages. The pace increased in the following kilometres and by the 5km checkpoint (22:13) the leading group had whittled down to five members – Morejon, Sena, Arenas and the Mexican duo of Ilse Guerrero and the 2018 world 10,000m U20 champion Alegna Gonzalez.
Despite having performed barely one week before at the South American Championships where they took gold and silver, Morejon and Sena were in charge of the pacing duties to reach halfway in 44:20, only followed by Arenas and Gonzalez as Guerrero lost ground in the previous lap.
It was at that point that the 2017 winner Sena injected a brisker pace and only Arenas could live with her change of speed. The 36-year-old Brazilian clocked 4:18 for the 11th lap in the company of Arenas, while Morejon and Gonzalez walked six seconds behind. One kilometre later it became clear that the world U20 record-holder and defending champion Morejon wouldn’t make the podium, likely hampered by her recent effort in Guayaquil, as she lost 13 seconds in fourth.
Sena and Arenas, who just missed the medals at the World Athletics Championships in Doha being fourth and fifth respectively, fought fiercely in the lead with the former always dictating the pace and Arenas tucked in behind her. By the 15km point reached in 1:06:12, Sena had managed to build a two-second advantage over Arenas, herself 16 seconds ahead of Morejon and 23 clear of Gonzalez.
The key movement came 1:12 into the race with 3600m remaining, when Arenas broke away easily from her rival to reach the 17th kilometre eight seconds ahead of the Brazilian. By the bell the 27-year-old Arenas had built a solid 21 seconds lead, while Sena still had 16 seconds over Gonzalez. While the Colombian crossed the finish line in 1:28:23, her third quickest ever time, a fading Rocha was finally overtaken by the Mexican who managed a huge lifetime best of 1:28:39 (previously 1:30:08) with Sena in third four seconds behind Gonzalez.
Ranked sixth in the world before this event, the winner is coached by Marcelino Pastrana and had finished ninth in La Coruna in 2014 before a DNF in 2018, so Saturday's result was third time lucky for Arenas.
Emeterio Valiente for World Athletics
1 Diego Garcia (ESP) 1:19:37
2 Perseus Karlstrom (SWE) 1:19:44
3 Alvaro Martin (ESP) 1:19:59
4 Brian Daniel Pintado (ECU) 1:20:15 (PB)
5 Andres Olivas (MEX) 1:20:24
6 Callum Wilkinson (GBR) 1:20:32 (PB)
7 Jesus Tadeo Vega (MEX) 1:20:32
8 Jose Oswaldo Calel (GUA) 1:20:35 (PB)
9 David Hurtado (MEX) 1:20:37 (PB)
10 Jordy Jimenez (ECU) 1:20:47 (PB)
1 Sandra Lorena Arenas (COL) 1:28:24
2 Alegna Gonzalez (MEX) 1:28:40 (PB)
3 Erica Sena (BRA) 1:28:44
4 Glenda Morejon (ECU) 1:29:50
5 Noelia Vargas (CRC) 1:30:44 (PB)
6 Mariavittoria Becchetti (ITA) 1:32:03
7 Kimberly Garcia (PER) 1:32:13
8 Nicole Colombi (ITA) 1:32:26 (PB)
9 Magaly Bonilla (ECU) 1:32:34
10 Ilse Guerrero (MEX) 1:33:07
Photos by Almudena Miguez (FGA)